Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, Vol 17, No 1 (2004)

The Functional Riddle of 'Glossy' Canaanean Blades and the Near Eastern Threshing Sledge

Patricia C. Anderson, Jacques Chabot, Annelou van Gijn
Issued Date: 27 Jan 2007


This paper examines aspects of the agricultural activities and network supported by ‘Canaanean’ blade segments from Ninevite V sites located principally in Syria and Iraq. Technological and functional analyses of an extensive sample of these tools, alongside experimental and ethnoarchaeological reference data, point to their use as instruments for working cereals, but not a harvesting tool (sickle) as is usually assumed. Our analyses indicate that these blades were standardised inserts used in a special raft-like threshing sledge as described in contemporary cuneiform texts. The functional study was enlarged to include an extensive experimental program that studied harvesting and other agricultural tools. In particular, we analysed all effects of the functioning of reconstructed threshing rafts, armed with reproductions of Canaanean blade segments. Microscopic silica phytolith ‘sheets’ from cereal stems, extracted from soil samples taken from structures in various sites, indicated that straw chopped with the instrument was used in large quantities as mudbrick temper, fuel and animal fodder. Experimental studies carried out on blades to examine indicators of the knapping method revealed traces of a special manufacturing technique—pressure debitage with a lever and a copper-tipped point, which was identified on standardised Canaanean blades in the northern Mesopotamian sites studied. Our findings suggest that these Canaanean blade segments were produced in northern Mesopotamian workshops and then distributed over the region to equip threshing sledges. This lends support to hypotheses that local centres controlled extensive networks of village sites in the Ninevite V period, and were devoted to the large-scale production, storage and redistribution of agricultural products, possibly in exchange for items such as the specially produced threshing sledge blades.

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DOI: 10.1558/jmea.v17i1.87


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